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The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018

“If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.  For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”  (Romans 6:5-7 NIV)

“You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.  And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.  But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.  And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”  (Romans 8:9-11 NIV).

Resurrection Power (2)

One of these days I want to write some stories about David and his mighty men.  Everybody knows the basics about King David, how he slew Goliath, how he patiently waited for God to make him king and would not raise his hand against Saul even though Saul hunted for him and tried to kill him multiple times.  But there is so much more to the story… and it is fascinating!

I especially like the stories about David’s mighty men.  In I Chronicles 11 and 12 we get some glimpses of who they were.  “These were the men who came to David at Ziklag, while he was banished from the presence of Saul son of Kish (they were among the warriors who helped him in battle; they were armed with bows and were able to shoot arrows or to sling stones right-handed or left-handed…” (I Chronicles 12:1,2 NIV).

Now, don’t forget that the Philistines had bronze swords and shields and armor.  The Israelites lived in the hills and had arrows and slingshots and a few swords and spears that they stole from their enemies.  These were brave men.

It goes on…..

“Some Gadites defected (from Saul) to David at his stronghold in the desert.  They were brave warriors, ready for battle and able to handle the shield and spear.  Their faces were the faces of lions, and they were as swift as gazelles in the mountains…These Gadites were army commanders; the least was a match for a hundred, and the greatest for a thousand” (I Chronicles 12: 8 NIV).

Yes, I know that it sounds like a bit of hyperbole and exaggeration but ….not that much, actually.  Look what it says about the Three….yes, that is what they were called…the Three…..Jashobeam (let’s call him Jash), Eleazar and Joab, who became the commander of David’s army after he took Jerusalem from the Jebusites.  So just in case you think the Chronicler is exaggerating, listen to what he says about these guys (the details demonstrate the truth of these stories).

“Jashobeam, a Hacomite, was chief of the officers; he raised his spear against three hundred men, whom he killed in one encounter” (I Chronicles 11: 11b).  In another parallel passage it talks about him killing eight hundred men by himself.  He was a real warrior, no doubt.  I’m thinking Brad Pitt in the movie about the Trojan wars.  You get the idea.

Talking about the Three, the Chronicler tells of one incident where the rest of the Israelite troops “fled from the Philistines.  But they (the Three) took their stand in the middle of the field.  They defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the LORD brought about a great victory” (I Chronicles 11: 13b, 14).  God was on their side.

But that’s not all, I love this next story the most….

“Three of the thirty chiefs came down to David to the rock at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim.  At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem.

David longed for water and said, “Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!”

So the Three broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David.

But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the LORD.  “God forbid that I should do this!” he said.  “Should I drink the blood of these men who went at the risk of their lives?”  Because they risked their lives to bring it back, David would not drink it.  Such were the exploits of the three mighty men” (I Chronicles 11: 15-19 NIV).

Don’t you just love these stories.  The mighty men of David were true warriors fighting against overwhelming odds.  What made them train so hard?  What gave them courage?  What motivated them to do these crazy things for David?

And they weren’t the only ones…..let me introduce you to two more who are worthy of mention….

Abishai the brother of Joab was chief of the Three.  He raised his spear against three hundred men, whom he killed, and so he became as famous as the Three.  He was doubly honored above the Three and became their commander, even though he was not included among them” (I Chronicles 11: 20,21 NIV).

Benaiah son of Jehoiada was a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, who performed great exploits.  He struck down two of Moab’s best men.  He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion.  And he struck down an Egyptian who was seven and a half feet tall.  Although the Egyptian had a spear like a weaver’s rod in his hand, Benaiah went against him with a club.  He snatched the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear.  Such were the exploits of Benaiah son of Jehoiada; he too was as famous as the three mighty men.  He was held in greater honor than any of the Thirty, but he was not included among the Three.  And David put him in charge of his bodyguard” (I Chronicles 11: 22-25 NIV).

Wow….these were tough men.  Jash and Eleazer and Joab, the Three who were at David’s side almost from the beginning.  Joab’s brother, Abishai, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, just as famous.  There you have five of the greatest of David’s mighty men.  And then there is mention of the Thirty, another group of warriors who were renown for their fighting skills….and many more came to David after Saul’s death and became part of his army.

The thing about fighting men, so they tell me, is that they are either arrogant or superstitious.  What do I mean?  Every warrior knows that battle is arbitrary.  You can’t control all the variables.  A spear or bullet can hit you just as much as the guy next to you.  In battle you fight the person in front of you and you take your chances.  Either you are motivated by fear and fight like a demon or you are motivated by ego and focus on your skill in battle.  Not that I know anything about this from personal experience, you understand.

But they say that most people who fight are somewhat superstitious as well.  Whether they believe in luck, in God or just in the rightness of their cause, in the end, they just have to take their chances, go into battle, and fight the best they can.  If they survive, whether because of luck or skill, so be it.  Some higher power wanted it that way.

But David’s mighty men are different.  At least that is what it seems to me.  There is something strange about them.  They trained hard but they had a courage beyond most men.  Yes, of course, they believed in God but it was more than that.  Yes, they believed in the rightness of David’s cause.  They believed in his anointing to become King and were sometimes annoyed at his patience with Saul, but it was more than that as well.

It wasn’t just blind faith in fate, or destiny or even in the God of Israel who they hoped would save them in battle.  It was more than simply “hope.”  There was a certainty about them that fed their courage and stamina in the fight.    Let me try to explain what I mean in a different way….


You can imagine the conversation around the campfire at night between David and his mighty men.

“David, you have to stop taking so many chances,” Jash said, his eyes wide in the firelight as he sat down beside David.  “Scaling that cliff by yourself was foolish.”

They were warriors and were willing to take risks, but David was going to be King.  He needed to be more careful.

“Leave him alone,” the gruff voice of Joab came out of the darkness behind David.  He was always close by, guarding David with his life.  “He knows what he’s doing.”

“All I’m saying is….”

“I agree with Jash,” Eleazar blurted out.  “If he had fallen, all of this would be for nothing.”

David just kept quiet waiting for them to finish.  He was fiddling with a stick he had placed in the fire and smiled to himself.

Abishai and Benaiah were there but they kept silent.  This was a discussion among the Three and David had heard it all before.  They all looked at David expectantly, waiting for him to speak.

“Do you all believe that I will be King one day?” David asked quietly.

They nodded.

“Why?”  That solitary word hung in the air for a moment in the silence.

“Why were you chosen to be king?” Jash asked.  “I don’t know.  Nobody does.  God chose you, I guess.”

“God chose me,” David repeated quietly.  “I don’t know why anymore than you do.”  But the God of Israel chose me to be King.  He sent his prophet, Samuel, to my house and out of all my brothers I was chosen, and anointed…..and now I am here in a cave with you.  Not exactly king-like, is it?”

“You are our King,” Eleazar declared, stubborn to the end.

“Thank you, but no.” David replied.  “There is only one King in Israel and that is Saul son of Kish.  He, too, was anointed by God and until God removes him, I will not be King.”

Heads nodded.  They had heard all of this before.

“But here’s the thing.”  Apparently David wasn’t done this time.  “God made me King.  I have been anointed.  It is already so but not yet fulfilled.  Do you understand?”

Silence.

David tried again to put it into words.

“I trust Him.  Why would I not?  He made me King too early it seems.  But God never makes a mistake.  What is he doing?  He’s up to something, preparing something….maybe preparing me, preparing us….for what’s coming.”

“What’s coming?” Abishai spoke up, then lowered his head immediately in shame.

David smiled.

“Leadership.  Responsibility.  Ruling Israel,” David said, his voice clear and sharp.

“But that’s for you….not us,” Jash said.

“Not true.  It is for all of us.”  David looked around at his mighty men.  “I cannot rule alone.  I don’t even want to.  What do I know about being a King?”

“You follow God and that’s enough,”  Joab’s voice came out of the darkness behind David again.

Silence.

“You are right, my friend,” David said without even turning around.  “God is the only true King in Israel.  Our job is to follow Him.”

“Unlike Saul,” Eleazar stated harshly.

“Do not speak ill of our King,” David warned him.  Then, with a smile, he agreed.  “Unlike Saul, which is why God has taken the Kingdom from him and given it to us.”

“Us?” Jash said.  “You, you mean.”

“Yes, of course but no, not entirely.  You are part of it,” David said.  “You have to be and God is preparing you, just like He is preparing me.”

“What does it have to do with you taking unnecessary risks?” Jash said.

“Everything,” David replied.  He started to smile that lopsided, boyish grin of his.  “If God has anointed me to be King, then nothing is a risk.  I am under His protection.”

“Do you think it is wise to take advantage of God’s favor that way?”  The question came from Joab.  That was a surprise.

This time David turned around, then stood up and moved back a bit to include Joab in the circle.  “Take advantage?  No.  Trust him in battle?  Yes.”

Silence.

“We all do that,” Benaiah said softly.

“Exactly,” said David.  “Every time we go into battle, we trust Him to protect us.”

“Yes, well,” Joab said.  “He promised to protect us in battle if we do what He said and throw the Philistines out.  We all know that.”

“We all know it but not everybody trusts that promise, especially in the heat of battle.”

“You do,” Abishai spoke again.  “You trust Him.”

“Yes, I do,” David said.  “And I have two promises, not just one.  Besides why would God go through all the trouble of anointing me as a child if He wasn’t going to make me King someday?”

“So what are you saying, David?”  Benaiah asked.  “You can’t be killed?”

Everyone looked at David with eyes wide.  They hadn’t thought of that before.  David just smiled.  “It certainly looks that way, doesn’t it.”  He laughed out loud.

Joab just grunted from his circle of darkness in the corner of the cave.  “Don’t be testing out that theory by being reckless is all I say.”

David became more somber.  “I agree but I believe that Jerusalem is important and that God wants me to use it as my base of operations.  It was a calculated risk but God was with me and we prevailed.”

Heads nodded.  Eyes were starting to droop.  It was time to get some sleep.

“I like that name,” Jash said as he snuggled down into a good sleeping position.

“What name?” Eleazar said, stifling a yawn.

“Jerusalem,” he said.  “It sounds like a royal city.  Let’s call it the city of David, the shepherd King from Bethlehem.”

David chuckled out loud.  Yes, it was all a bloody miracle.  From shepherd boy to military leader to King in Jerusalem.  Only God could pull something like this off.  David trusted Him.  It was as simple as that.  Training in faith was essential to the battles that still lay ahead.  He was certain of that as well.


What does all of this have to do with our topic today on Resurrection Power?

Everything of course.  Do you remember that I had suggested that these seven truths in Romans 8 are essential for the battle described in Romans 7?  And I also said that the first one, which I called No Condemnation, included faith, hope and love?  The second truth, Resurrection Power, and the third truth, Evidence of Life, have to do with Faith.  The next two with Hope and the final two with Love.  Or at least that is how I see it.

So the key to understanding and harnessing this Resurrection Power is faith.

Faith in the promises of God.

Faith in His anointing.

Faith in the salvation that He gives you because of the cross of Christ.

Faith that you have been accepted as righteous because of the righteousness of Christ.

Faith that you are a child of God, a KING or QUEEN with leadership responsibilities under the rule of God.

Faith that you will be saved from eternal death in the spiritual battles we must fight (even though we might suffer and be killed in this body).

Faith in your future as determined and promised by God that you will be presented without spot or blemish before His throne on the last day and that He will welcome you with the words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

Yes, faith is the key to the power of God. Not faith in faith.  Faith in a person, Jesus Christ, and what He has done for us already and what He promises to do in us and for us now and in the future.   All of life is a training in faith. 

Just like David.  He knew that he would be King.  God anointed him and sealed it with His promise, His oath.  David could not die until that promise was fulfilled.  God promised His people that He would protect them in battle.  It takes faith.  It also takes training and effort and sweat and tears but, most of all, it takes faith.

Just like David, there is an “indicative” and an “imperative.”  What does that mean?  It’s just a grammatical way of saying that there is a “statement” or truth and an “expectation” or act of obedience.  Truth and Consequence.  Cause and Effect.

On the one hand, David’s anointing was God’s “statement” that David would be King.  It was a bit early mind you.  It took another seventeen years or so before it came true.  But God made the promise and therefore it was already true.

On the other hand, David had work to do.  He was a shepherd who became a warrior.  The job that God had given His people was to drive the Philistines out of the promised land.  That job was given to the people already at the time of Moses and Joshua but the people had gotten lazy about it and therefore were living in poverty in the hills afraid of their enemies and becoming more like them in every succeeding generation.

They refused to do battle.  They were not just lazy.  They did not have faith.  God told them that He had given them the Promised Land but they needed to conquer it in His strength.  They would fight and He would give them the victory.

In David’s case, he was not to fight Saul and create a civil war which was what other would-be kings have done the world over.  In faith, David was to leave the Kingship (his glorification) in the hands of God and get to work cleaning out the land of all the false worship (even, later on, child sacrifices) of the surrounding people who were leading the people astray.  This is the work of sanctification.

We have the same job to do.  We have been anointed to be the children of God and therefore co-heirs with Christ.  Our glorification as Kings and Queens under the reign of Christ will be revealed in the right moment but, right now, our job is to sanctify ourselves, train ourselves for battle, make every effort to fulfill God’s purpose in our lives.

The thing that we have to remember is that we are a world at war.  There is a battle to be fought for the hearts and minds of the people (including our own).  We must be prepared.

Yes, we have the resurrection power of God at our disposal.  We have the Holy Spirit within and there is no more excuse about not being able to do God’s will.

In the battle we cannot despair and condemn ourselves for there is no condemnation.

In the battle we cannot become depressed as if we have no power to overcome sin or accomplish the things of God.  That simply is not true.  We have resurrection power at our disposal.

God’s statement, His indicative, His truth, is that we have died to sin and been made alive to God in Christ (Romans 6:8).  We have the same power within us that rose Jesus from the dead and it will give life to our mortal bodies (Romans 8:11), not just in our glorification at the end of time but right now in our battle for sanctification and holiness.  The exhortation is to be who we already are.  To act like the King, the leader, that God has already anointed us to be.

I want to be one of the Mighty Men of God. I call them Desert Warriors

But I have to admit that I have not been consistent in my training or faithful in my efforts.  I fail continuously and it bugs me.  For a long time, I didn’t want to admit that there was a battle much less that it was a battle of God’s creating.  He wants us to be trained in the ways of faith in the context of battle. 

As C.S. Lewis so famously put it, God is in the business of creating a certain type of person.  The person of faith.  That kind of person can pull down strongholds, can scale cliffs to take a city on a hill and turn it into a royal city shedding light to all the world.  That person of faith is what I want to become and I need to start with what is true about me.  What God has declared about me.  What He has anointed me to be in Christ.  

Every time their was a problem in the early church, Paul would say something like, “but don’t you know?”  Don’t you understand the truth?  Don’t you understand what God has already done in you?  Don’t you understand who you are, what you have within you, what your future is?

One author calls it the “eschatological vision.”

I like that.  But what does it mean?

Basically if God says it is so, it is so.  Even if it isn’t so yet.  Even if it won’t be so until the end of time.  If God has said it, He guarantees it and there is nothing in the world that can change that truth.

It is an eschatological truth (meaning a truth about the end of time) that is already true today because God guarantees it.  I can’t change it.  No one can make God NOT complete His promise.

If God says that David will be King, then David will be King.  The question is whether or not you believe God.  That is what faith is pure and simple.  God looks into the future and declares that you will be King, you will be whole, you will be without spot and blemish.  It isn’t up to you, it is His work.  He is the author and finisher of our faith.  Sanctification, not just salvation, is guaranteed if you are “in Christ.”

Well, then, why should I fight the battle?  I should just have faith and relax and God will take care of the rest (“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means.” (Romans 6:1,2a NIV)).  Of course not.  That misses the point entirely.

This new relationship with God means that you now belong to Him, body and soul, which brings peace and joy and faith, hope and love.  These are the results of receiving the Spirit in regeneration.  You are a new creation.  You are now called to live in this in-between place and time (the true purgatory) where you learn to live out these truths in daily life, in the daily battle of the “redemptive emergency.”

Redemptive Emergency?  What in the world is that?

Yes, I know.  My twelve-year-old daughter asked me the same thing (but in a different way).  Why can’t we just go straight to heaven after we are baptized?  Great idea.  But that would be a scary ordeal for anyone who wanted to become a Christian.  Can you imagine?  Come to Christ.  Be baptized.  We will drown you and you can go straight to heaven.  I don’t think so.

Then why doesn’t God just make it easy for us, give us lots of resources, take away the suffering and pain and make the Christian life so pleasant that everyone will want to come to church?  Another great idea.  But that would mean that there would be line-ups of people coming to church for the wrong reasons.  We already have some of that heresy sprinkled around our churches but God is not interested in people who come to Him just for the benefits.

My wife feels the same.  If I am only in the relationship for what I can get out of it and not because I love her whether we are “rich or poor, in sickness or in health,” then it isn’t called love.  It isn’t true marriage.  The same is true for God.  There are benefits of course but part of the training in righteousness and faith is to learn to suffer for the gospel and still live out of the power of faith.

Why bother?  Yes, because of love and gratitude but why is God really doing all of this?  This is one of the secret ingredients to our battle that so many people miss out on.  There is a “redemptive emergency” that God wants help with. Our transformation, our faith expressing itself through love, is the testimony that these truths are real and can make a vital difference to people in their daily lives in the here and now.

We have a purpose to fulfill.  Just like David.

He was being trained for a purpose, to be King, to lead his people in the ways of God, so that God could establish His Kingdom on earth in preparation for the coming of the Christ who would take away the sins of the world.  David was a key element in God’s plans to save the world.

There is a “redemptive emergency” that we are a part of and we need to realize that our training in righteousness and faith is an important part of that plan.

To the degree that we live by faith and follow God and enter into battle against the flesh, the world and the Devil in pursuit of establishing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, to that degree we are a significant part of God’s army.  We make a difference in the lives of the people around us.  Our testimony becomes powerful and alive because we have demonstrated by faith that God is real and that his power to transform lives is real.

Jesus also had his Three and his Twelve and his Seventy (and even his five hundred witnesses of his resurrection) and they struggled with the same thing.  When Jesus was about to ascend into heaven, they still did not understand that there was going to be an “interim time” before the eschatological Kingdom of God would come and the world would end as they knew it.

“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6b NIV).  Can you imagine?  If Jesus had agreed with them, millions of people would never have been saved.  This age of the Gospel, this interim time, this in-between purgatory of sorts, needs warriors who would “turn the world on its head” in the power of faith in the resurrection life that is so powerfully at work in us who believe.

That is our “super power” and it can bring down strongholds and take every thought captive to Christ.  We need to learn how to use it, we need training in discipleship, so that we can also become who we truly are – mighty men and women of God.

The Desert Warrior

Lord, thank you for declaring that we are already mighty men and women of faith.  We know that we have resurrection power within us.  Teach us to use it by faith and help us to show the world, our families, our children, our friends and neighbors that the transforming power of God is mightily at work in us by faith.  We cannot do it on our own, we know, and you caution us not to even try but to always do it in your power, by staying closely connected to you through the cross.  Thank you, Lord.  Amen.